Opposite Lansbury, as the love who scorned her character years ago, is Philip Bosco (Lend Me a Tenor, The Heiress). The cast of the reading also includes John Cunningham (Titanic, Six Degrees of Separation), Walter Charles (La Cage aux Folles, Wit), Ronn Carroll (The Rink, Steel Pier), Jason Danieley (Candide), John Dossett (Ragtime), Adam Grupper (Guys and Dolls, It's My Party...) and Marc Kudisch (High Society, Scarlet Pimpernel). Vocal powerhouse Alix Korey (No Way to Treat a Lady, Triumph of Love) and character actress Mary Louise Wilson (Full Gallop, Cabaret) will also be part of this initial phase of the new tuner's disturbing world, drawn from the 1956 play by Friedrich Durrenmatt.
Rehearsals for the reading began Dec. 6. The company numbers 25 in all, including Scott Corollo, Michelle Ragusa, Rex Robbins, Rob Roznowski and John Wylie, among others.
In this dark comedy of revenge, a former prostitute, now a millionairess, pays a macabre visit to her hometown. She tempts the poverty-stricken townspeople with cash to kill the man who ruined her when she was a girl.
The lead roles were originally played in New York by Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. A recent revival at the Roundabout Theatre Company featured Jane Alexander and Harris Yulin. The rehearsals and reading allow the creative team and producer Brown to assess the progress of the material, which, Brown earlier told Playbill On-Line, is slated for a Broadway run in spring 2001. Frank Galati (Ragtime, The Seussical) is directing.
Brown told Playbill On-Line in October that Kander, Ebb and McNally "are just finishing up the script and score" for the show, which was initially targeted for spring 2000. Instead, the show will first go into rehearsal October 2000. Producer Brown noted that the large-scale project would go out of town first before coming into New York.
Librettist McNally penned the Tony-nominated book for Ragtime and scripted the Tony-winning Kiss of the Spider Woman, Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class.
Among producer Brown's previous projects are co-producing La Cage aux Folles in 1983, and the 1991 Tyne Daly Gypsy revival. He's also working with songwriters Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil on two projects: a revue of their hits, titled That Lovin' Feeing; and a musical adaptation of the film, Mask.
As for The Visit, Brown told Playbill On-Line (March 4, 1998), "I've bought the rights. I've wanted to do the musical for years. At the moment I'm the sole producer, though with musicals running $8 million these days, it usually doesn't stay that way."
Asked where he got the idea to turn The Visit into a musical, Brown said he first saw the Durrenmatt play in a black box theatre in Los Angeles five or six years ago. "I thought, hmmm...I wonder. But nothing will happen if I don't make it happen."
Best known for TV's "Murder She Wrote," Lansbury's last Broadway turn was recreating her Tony-winning performance in a 1983 revival of Mame. Before that, she won the Tony as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, though she's also legendary for making Mama Rose her own (despite Merman's legacy) in a major Broadway revival of Gypsy.
A Swiss playwright who died in 1990, Durrenmatt began his career with It Is Written in 1947. Other plays include The Physicists and Play Strindberg.
The Visit was set to music at least once previously, in an opera by Gottfried von Einem. First performed in Vienna in 1971, The Visit of the Old Lady was staged at New York City Opera in 1997.
-- By Kenneth Jones